A note from Jonathan...
When I think about those who have had a significant influence on my life in the Bay Area as far as being a mentor, inspiration, and friend, few can compare to Steve Silberman. We first met at the Haight Street Fair in San Francisco in the mid-80s when I was working with the Grateful Dead, and he has remained a part of my life ever since moving to Marin decades ago and becoming a real estate agent. From his seminal writing on the Grateful Dead to his award-winning and nationally acclaimed book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Steve has a unique way of writing that is the perfect marriage of intelligence, awe, inspiration, and captivation. As a result, his reputation precedes him, and rightfully so, you can count on any work that he produces as being worthy of reading and sharing. I count him as one of my oldest friends in the Bay Area and I am forever grateful to have him in my life. And now, allow me to share Steve with you in his own words.
Who inspired you?
When I was young, my primary role model was the poet Allen Ginsberg. In his poems “Howl” and “Kaddish,” he cast light on the lives of people at the margins of society – junkies, visionaries, gay people, folks in mental institutions, his own mother with schizophrenia – and celebrated their humanity, while exposing the forces of greed and aggression that keep us all alienated from one another and from our true selves. My bestselling history of autism, NeuroTribes, was very much inspired by his work. “And what’s the work?” Ginsberg once asked in a poem. “To ease the pain of living.”
What setbacks did you overcome?
No money, no job, no self-confidence, huge amounts of debt, anxiety, insomnia, diabetes, and other health problems. At one point, I was trading in Grateful Dead collectors’ items to buy food for my cat. But it worked out in the end – though thankfully, it’s not “the end” yet.
Where do you feel most at home?
I feel most at home floating in the water on a little stretch of beach in the West End of Provincetown on Cape Cod, where my family rented houses for 40 summers. My father’s ashes were scattered in that water. I hope to return someday, though the charming little house we used to rent was torn down and replaced by a mansion that’s on the market now for $10 million. But the water’s still there.
When did you feel confident you would succeed?
I had no idea whether NeuroTribes would succeed until I sent a copy of the manuscript to Kate Edgar, who was the longtime assistant to the brilliant neurologist Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other books. She stayed up all night reading it, and texting me about the passages that had made her cry. When I saw Kate’s messages in the morning, I thought the book might find a readership after all.
Why did you choose this experience/field/career?
When I was a little kid in New York City walking home from school, one day I noticed that I had a seemingly endless sentence unspooling in my head. I wondered if that meant I was supposed to be a writer. I’m still listening to that inner voice.
Order Steve’s book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity on Amazon here!